Right setting

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I READ with interest Rod Grant’s opinions (your report, 7 May) on the idea of “setting” being “cruel” in schools, and also more of a tool for classroom management than of benefit to the pupils.

This point of view on the practice of grouping pupils in class strikes me as overly 
simplistic.

It is my experience that, if well taught, children in “bottom sets” are much more likely to take risks with answers than they are in the presence of more naturally academic children. This is particularly the case in mathematics.

Contrary to my understanding of Mr Grant’s position, I would contend that setting in maths is a practice which does not allow for the ignoring of the “middle groups” but focuses on the ability of each individual child much more efficiently.

I note his comments that a “middle” performer in a mixed-ability class could well be 
allowed to drift. I agree, as the natural inclination of the teacher might well be to stretch the most able and to show empathy to those who are struggling in a subject.

This is surely an argument for the setting of certain subjects (from around primary four) as it maximises the amount of teacher time available to pupils of widely similar abilities. Of course, these sets must be fluid as the children develop.

There are coherent debating points on both sides, but I would strongly suggest that the ability, enthusiasm and empathy of the teacher is of tantamount 
importance in the fostering of self-esteem and that this can be done very effectively in classes which are set.

Of much greater concern, in my opinion, is Mr Grant’s other point, which contends that information about children 
should not be passed on from one year to another. It is my hope that he has been misquoted or that this applies only to the setting of pupils by ability. 
If not then this view goes against much of what we have achieved in Scottish education in recent years. In primary schools, we work extremely hard to get to know each child individually and the GIRFEC (Getting it Right for Every Child) model being used and promoted at governmental level would be rendered worthless if the idea of a fresh start every August were to be adopted.

Sadly, I thought that the wasting of the first few weeks of a school year in assessing children rather than using sophisticated methods of tracking progress, was behind us, but this is clearly not the case.

Gavin Calder

Mayfield Park

Edinburgh

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